The Mets were the new National League New York team, one of two new NL teams that year, the other being the Houston Colt 45's, later to be renamed the Astros. the Mets donned blue & orange colors, in honor of the departed New York Giants & Brooklyn Dodgers who had left for California in 1957 (but that's another story).
The Mets manager was “the old professor” Casey Stengel. Stengel was 72 years old in 1962 and had been a successful player & manager, since forever.
Stengel was a lifetime .284 hitter who went on to win seven World Series titles as a manager. He was one of select few to have played and or managed all four New York baseball teams. Stengel was a walking Mets public relations machine, giving them the moniker “The Amazing Mets”.
As Stengel once said “when a baby Mets fan is born his first words aren’t mommy or daddy its Metsie, Metsie”. A term Met legend Keith Hernandez uses today all the time on tv broadcasts. Stengel is a member of the baseball Hall of Fame & was the first Met to have his uniform number (#37) retired by the Mets.
The Mets starting line up that day was a rag tag of veteran players, as expansion in those days was different than the developing of a new team in todays times. The starting pitcher was Roger Craig who was to suppose to start the home opener the next day, but he had to start since scheduled pitcher Sherman "road block" Jones had burned himself on a team flight. The saga of the '62 Mets just began...........
Ritchie Ashburn stepped up to the plate in the top of the 1st inning as the first batter in Mets history. He flew out to center field, the second batter was Felix Mantilla, he grounded out. Charlie Neal was next & flew out to right, Mets history was under way.
In the bottom of the 1st, Craig got Curt Flood out but then gave up a pair of singles & Hall of Famer Stan Musial singled in the first run against the Mets. Future Met Ken Boyer drove in the next.
In the 2nd inning, former Cincinnati Red; Gus Bell got the first Mets hit, a single to center field. After Gil Hodges flew out in his Mets debut, Con Zimmer got the second Mets hit.
In the 3rd inning, Ashburn singled to left field & Felix Mantilla walked. Then Charlie Neal drove in the first run in Mets history with a base hit & slugger Frank Thomas the second with a sac fly.
In the 4th, after the Cards went ahead 5-2, future Mets manager Gil Hodges led off the inning by hitting the first HR in Mets history. It was #363 of his great career. In the 5th inning,
Charlie Neal hit the second HR in Mets history, a line drive shot that carried right over the fence. Neal had the best day of all the Mets hitters going 3-4 with a HR, and two RBIs. Neal would also make the first error in Mets history when he booted a grounder in the sixth inning, helping the Cards as they scored four runs in the inning.
On the mound, Roger Craig was done by the 4th inning, giving up five runs on eight hits. He recorded the first Mets strike out by a pitcher, fanning catcher Gene Oliver. In the 4th inning, Bob Moorehead became the Mets first relief pitcher to come out of the bull pen.
The Mets would lose their first nine games before winning on April 23rd, 1962 at home in the Polo Grounds. The 1962 Mets went on to lose a record 120 games while winning only 40.
Trivia: The 1962 coaching staff behind Casey Stengel consisted of Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, former Brooklyn Dodger Cookie Lavagetto, Red Ruffing, Solly Hemus, & Red Kress.
Felix Mantilla: Mantilla was Hank Aaron's roommate with the Milwaukee Braves & was a member of their 1957 World Championship team. With the 1962 Mets he had 11 HRs 59 RBIs and hit .275. He was sent to the Boston Red Sox the next season where he had some good years, hitting 30 HRs in 1964 & driving in 92 runs in 1965.
Charlie Neal: A member of the Brooklyn/ L.A Dodgers who had his best season in 1959 when they won the World Series. That year he made the All Star team, won a gold glove, batted .287, scored over 100 runs & led the league in triples. Neal hit .260 for the 1962 Mets with 11 HRs & 9 triples playing a solid defense. He was traded to the Reds the next season. Neal passed away in 1995 at age 64.
Frank Thomas: Thomas would hit 34 HRs in 1962, a Met record until Dave Kingman hit 37 HRs in 1975. Thomas was a journey man outfielder who hit 266 career HRs, including twelve straight years in double figures. He was second in the NL with 35 HRs in 1958 & appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Thomas who had studied to be a priest before baseball, was on the top 40 all time HR list when he retired. He was on hand for the closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium in 2008.
Gus Bell: Bell was a four time All Star who had hit over .290 six times in twelve previous seasons. Bell was a power hitter had four 20 plus HR & 100 plus RBI seasons. He was a team mate of Ralph Kiner with the Pirates & then a hero in his hometown of Cincinnati with the Reds. Gus only hit .149 in 30 games with the 1962 Mets and was traded to the Milwaukee Braves. Gus is the father of a rare three generation baseball family, his son Buddy Bell was a long time player & manager, and his grand children David & Mike were also MLB players. Gus passed away in 1995 at age 67.
Don Zimmer: Zimmer went on to a successful baseball career as a player, coach & manager. He was a Brooklyn Dodger utility infielder, having his career affected by a terrible beaning that put him in the hospital & almost left him blind ending his career. He was a member of the 1955 & 1959 Dodger championship teams. Zimmer batted .235 lifetime and only hit .077 in 14 games with the 1962 Mets, before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds.
Hobie Landrith: Landrith was the Mets first pick in the 1961 draft. Manager Casey Stengel justified the choice saying "You gotta have a catcher or you're gonna have a lot of passed balls. He was a career backup catcher with seven different teams batting .233 lifetime. In 45 games with the 1962 Mets he hit .289 before going to the Baltimore Orioles in a trade for Marv Throneberry.
Roger Craig: Craig was a former Brooklyn/L.A. Dodger who was a member of the 1955 & 1959 Dodger Championship teams. In the ’59 season he went 11-5 with a 2.06 ERA. He would spend two seasons with the Mets losing twenty games both years. He would have success years later as pitching coach of Detroit Tigers & is credited with developing the split finger fast ball. He then went on to manage the San Diego Padres & San Francisco Giants taking them to the 1989 Earthquake World Series.
Bob Moorehead: Moorehead would spend two years with the Mets never winning a game going 0-3. In 1962 he went 0-2 giving up 118 hits in 108 innings.
Of course Gil Hodges had a spectacular career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, winning the 1955 World Series there & the 1959 World Series in Los Angeles. He then became a successful Manager with the Washington Senators & New York Mets. He led the Mets to the Amazing 1969 World Championship & had his uniform #14 retired. Hodges passed away from a fatal heart attack in 1972.